PALO ALTO, CA- Ford recently hosted automotive journalists from around the world at their new Silicon Valley research facility in Southern California.
Under the banner of the “Ford Smart Mobility Plan”, the staff at the Research & Innovation Centre (RIC) instigated 25 global experiments designed to hone in on future technology transportation solutions.
On June 23, six months after the opening, Mark Fields, president and CEO of Ford announced that the company would shift into the next phase of the plan, moving from research to implementation, with new pilot programs to improve connectivity, data collection, driver information and mobility technologies as the industry evolves inevitably towards a future with more semi-autonomous and, eventually, fully-autonomous vehicles. Some of the announced projects include dynamic shuttle systems, peer-to-peer car sharing and flexible ownership programs that are being explored in the U.S. and Europe.
Among the many new plans and technologies, my top five take-aways from the demonstrations are:
“Hey, is that a Ford bike?”
In an increasingly congested, urban-concentrated world, Ford has recognized that getting to work sometimes requires more than just one mode of transportation, using instead a multi-modal mix, combining the car commute with trains, buses, subways and, yes, with a new experimental Ford e-bike.
Three electric-assist designs adopted from an in-house engineering competition are moving further in development, including the MoDe:Me personal bike, the MoDe:Pro commercial delivery bike and the MoDe:Flex enthusiast’s bike.
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The e-bikes can be folded and/or dismantled and electrically charged while stored in Ford vehicles. Ranges and charging times are being finalized but an add-on MoDe:Link smartphone app would include route planning, traffic monitoring, parking and transit links, along with eye-free navigation, vibrating the left or right handgrip to indicate direction.
A smartphone app, like the MyFord wearable apps being developed to work in conjunction with plug-in hybrids, will eventually also be available for smart watches and Android Wear.
“Back, back, whoa.”
Ford demonstrated the Pro Trailer Backup Assist debuting on the 2016 F-150 pickup truck. Turning the steering wheel in the opposite direction to where you want the trailer to go seems counterintuitive for some, especially for novice drivers.
Using the backup camera for dynamic hitch location has made life easier, but now, with the Pro Trailer Backup Assist, the driver simply uses his mirrors and backup camera to steer the trailer, not the truck, by simply turning a knob on the dashboard.
Even experienced drivers will marvel at absolutely straight backup lines with the control knob centred, and the new technology makes reversing quicker and easier for all.
“There’s a parking spot over there!”
Backing up a trailer isn’t the only challenge. Some drivers dread parallel parking as much as they did on the day of their driver’s test.
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Utilizing 12 ultrasonic sensors, Ford’s Enhanced Park Assist not only takes over the steering and assists with parallel parking, it also now works with perpendicular parking, like say, fitting into a gap in an underground parking lot.
Ford even had us test a new remote parking system that enables a driver to move the car with buttons on a key fob while standing outside the vehicle, handy to get your car in out of particularly tight spots when someone’s parked too close to you.
“Eek! A spider!”
An inadvertently humourous Ford survey found that, along with the challenges of backing up and parallel parking, younger drivers actually fear other drivers more than death, public speaking and, yes, even spiders.
Which is why a new generation of customers is opting for compulsory safety technologies like rearview cameras, blind-spot monitoring, park assist systems, lane-keeping and adaptive cruise control. Pre-collision assist and pedestrian detection, already available in Europe will be coming to the U.S. and Canada by 2019.
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Think about the evolution of all those technologies and you can see how they will eventually blend into fully autonomous vehicle operation without any driver input, a concept which, by the way, doesn’t bother Millennials and Generation Z members as much as it does Boomers and older drivers.
The driver-assist technologies listed above are based on ultrasonic detection, radar-based systems and, more than ever, on cameras. Rearview cameras are becoming the norm but Ford is expanding into split-view front and rear cameras, 360-degree monitoring and a variety of other visual and sensing applications.
The coming 2016 Ford Super Duty will feature up to seven cameras on board and, by 2018, rear cameras will be standard on all Ford vehicles.
Ford is also experimenting with hydrophobic lenses that will shun dirt and water. And other potential camera applications include (cue the creepy music) monitoring driver behaviour, to tie in with lane keeping for drowsy driver alerts.
“That’s a wrap.”
The above are only a few of the systems and technologies being explored by engineers across the company and by Ford staff at the Silicon Valley Research & Innovation Centre. Some of the other displays on hand included Ford’s new third-generation Sync 3 infotainment/communication system with a corresponding AppLink for your smartphone, the increasing use of organics instead of petroleum-based components, a new, faster Carbon3D parts manufacturing process, and new lightweight components that, in one example, cut the weight of an experimental Ford Fusion by 800 lb or 25 percent, achieving the same curb weight as a two-sizes-smaller Fiesta.
That’s a broad range of research and new technologies that recognizes the changing times and needs of modern mobility and transportation.
“Our goal,” as Mark Fields said, “is to change the way the world moves – just as Henry Ford did more than 100 years ago.”
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